Nebraska fans will live in one of two worlds this 2022 season.
In one world, the Huskers get off to a good start and beat Northwestern. A season-opening win energizes the program, and a favorable schedule helps Nebraska roll to a 7-1 mark at the end of October, with the lone loss coming to those pesky Purdue Boilermakers on the road. We detail how that world looks right here.
But then there’s the other world Big Red fans could live in—one where the Huskers lose to Pat Fitzgerald and his Wildcats to start 0-1. In that world, chaos ensues. Nebraska doesn’t get off to a strong start and all the new pieces in the program don’t click right away. At the end of October in the worst version of Nebraska’s season, the Huskers are 3-5 and staring at a tough four-game November stretch to end the year. That world is detailed here.
Today, we’re living in the first world. It’s the best version where everything clicks for the Huskers, who are 7-1 at the end of October. An easy schedule helps Big Red become bowl eligible for the first time since Mike Riley was roaming the sidelines in 2016. But now comes the hard part—a four-game stretch in November that includes two home games against Minnesota and Wisconsin and a couple away contests at Michigan and Iowa.
How does the November stretch go for Nebraska? Let’s try to break it down.
Up first is PJ Fleck and Minnesota. Husker fans are fresh off a win against another Big Ten West coach they love to hate, Bret Bielema, and in that game against the Illini, Nebraska’s offensive line did well, paving the way for over 200 rushing yards. The winning ways continue for the Huskers the next week as they snap a three-game losing streak to the Gophers.
It’s a close game for three quarters, but the Husker offensive line starts to push back Minnesota’s front seven in the fourth. That’s where the running game starts to heat up for the Huskers. Transfer Anthony Grant breaks off a couple chunk runs, as does Jaquez Yant. Those two run hard and break the arm tackles of Gophers’ middle linebacker Mariano Sori-Marin, who looks gassed in the final 15 minutes.
It’s a clean and mistake-free game from quarterback Casey Thompson. No turnovers for the Texas transfer, and he only throws 20 passes. After the game, Scott Frost said there was no need to fix what wasn’t broken, so the offense leaned on the run game. Fans approved on social media that night.
Also in the postgame press conference, there are no words between Fleck and Frost, which has grown into a nice little Big Ten West coaching rivalry. Instead, Frost talks about how his team prepared well all week and executed the little details. In another postgame presser, Fleck takes a swig of the Coke Zero that is neatly placed in the top left corner of his podium, and gives credit to Frost for having his guys ready to play.
Nebraska heads into Michigan week 8-1. The Wolverines are 9-0 and ranked inside the top-5. It’s a big game in Ann Arbor, but there’s a slight twist. The week before, in Michigan’s win at Rutgers, Wolverines’ starting quarterback, Cade McNamara, suffered a concussion and won’t be available against the Huskers.
Nebraska’s fan base is torn about the news. On one hand, it throws a wrench into Michigan’s game plan. On the other, backup JJ McCarthy is a former five-star quarterback in the 2021 class and he’s more athletic than McNamara. Last season against the Huskers, McCarthy came into the game as a change-of-pace quarterback and broke a tackle for an 11-yard run. It wasn’t much, but he showed a glimpse of his potential.
Husker fans know what they’ll get with McNamara, but not McCarthy, and that’s scary.
That athletic ability from McCarthy stings Nebraska’s defense, which hasn’t seen a quarterback that mobile all season. McCarthy leads Michigan to a win, and does so with a handful of strong throws and quarterback-designed runs. Blake Corum rushes for over 100 yards while Donovan Edwards looks like the next star Michigan running back. Edwards was a four-star recruit in the 2021 class and gashes the Husker defense for a couple 20-plus-yard runs in the second half.
Nebraska wants to rebound the following week at home against Wisconsin, but it doesn’t happen. The Badgers enter the game in Lincoln with an 8-2 record and are fresh off a road win at Iowa. The Thompson-led Husker offense struggles against Jim Leonhard’s revamped-but-still-nasty defense. The Badgers sacked Hawkeye quarterback Spencer Petras four times the week before, and that pass rush makes its presence known against the Huskers. Nick Herbig wreaks havoc on the edges of Nebraska’s offensive line while a couple massive humans in the middle—the 6-foot-4, 316-pound Keeanu Benton and the 6-4, 300-pound Isaiah Mullens—do work inside.
Unfortunately for Erik Chinander, the trend of Wisconsin running backs having their way against Husker defenses continues. Braelon Allen, who, believe it or not is 18-years-old now, rumbles for over 150 rushing yards. He finds the end zone three times, the last of which, in the fourth quarter, is the nail in the coffin of the Husker loss. Graham Mertz, the quarterback who had a down year last season, does better than most think he would, and completes 65% of his passes and completes five throws for first downs in the game.
That makes it nine straight Badger wins over the Huskers. Frost has still never beaten Wisconsin in his tenure as the head coach of Nebraska. But while the loss to the Badgers was yet another blow to the fan base, there’s a quiet confidence in Lincoln about the Iowa game.
Frost’s teams have generally played the Hawkeyes tough while never actually getting over the Iowa hump. That changes this season, however, as the Huskers pull off a win over Kirk Ferentz’s team, the first time that’s happened since 2014.
Unlike the game in 2021, it’s a frigid Black Friday in Iowa City for the game. It’s tough to throw the ball for both offenses, though that impacts Nebraska’s attack more than Iowa’s because Petras is having another less-than-stellar year, having been benched multiple times for Alex Padilla, who doesn’t do much better, either.
But while the offenses struggle to move the ball through the air, Nebraska’s run game and defense are the highlights. Nebraska gains nearly 200 hard-fought rushing yards and uses three primary backs to do it—Grant, Yant and Gabe Ervin Jr. Those three churn out tough yards, and it brings joy to the Husker fans who have flooded Kinnick Stadium.
Sure, running the football on Iowa is great. But much of that joy comes from Nebraska’s defensive effort. Chinander already had a high approval rating following his strong 2021 campaign, but something about the win at Iowa makes the fans get behind the defensive coordinator even more.
The win features excellent games from linebackers Luke Reimer and Nick Henrich, who together rack up 21 tackles. But the work in front of those two along the defensive line was what made that possible. Ty Robinson had the best game of his season. So did Stephon Wynn Jr., who looked like an immovable boulder at times in the middle for the Blackshirts. Garrett Nelson and Ochaun Mathis held down the edges. Caleb Tannor sacked Petras once and is starting to generate NFL Draft buzz, which Husker fans didn’t expect before the season.
After the game, Frost and Ferentz meet at midfield for a quick handshake. It was a short, stern handshake. Neither really looks each other in the eye, they instead simply appear to be two coaches doing their duty. Nebraska finishes the regular season 9-3 and goes 2-2 in November.
Nebraska is headed to the Music City Bowl in Nashville where it will meet Mississippi State. The player festivities during the week prior to the game were much less awkward than the ones Frost and Mike Leach were forced to do together, but the two coaches have fun with it, even if they are polar opposites as human beings.
As for the game against the Bulldogs, Leach’s team beats Nebraska to move the Huskers’ record to 9-4. Both teams have several opt-outs, so it’s hard to gauge what the loss means.
Mississippi State’s offense proves tough to stop, as it nickel and dimes its way down the field for four quarters. Quarterback Will Rogers tosses five touchdowns and over 500 passing yards. Nebraska’s pass rush can barely get to Rogers because he gets rid of the ball so quickly. Nebraska’s run game couldn’t get in rhythm against the SEC defense, and its passing attack never got on track, either.
Did Husker fans want a better showing in November than the .500 record they got? Yes. But 9-4 with a bowl appearance in a make-or-break season for Frost that includes a win over the rival across the river? Husker nation—and Nebraska’s administration—will take that in a heartbeat.
Nebraska heads into the early signing period and offseason with real positive momentum, and it shows in the recruiting rankings. Winning does, in fact, cure all, as the fan base is more united as it’s ever been under Frost.
Next week, whether we want to or not, we’ll be taking a look in other world. The world where Nebraska starts 0-1 and is 3-5 heading into the four-game November slate. How will that pan out? What’s that world look like?
We’ll find out next week.